The District of Columbia won't rest until a government mugger is posted on every street corner. The city's revenue cameras are shaking down drivers for nearly $100 million a year, but the District wants to expand the network until it extracts every penny in the motorists' pockets. These cameras keep the municipal treasury flush, but Congress, as it should, is finally taking a keen interest in the scheme.
Rep. Kerry L. Bentivolio, Michigan Republican, will introduce legislation next week pulling the plug, literally, on the District's revenue cameras. This at first glance may look like using a sledgehammer on a housefly, but reckless municipal flies brought it on themselves. The District annually issues on average more than one citation per resident, and that's not enough for Mayor Vincent C. Gray. His 2014 budget adds new cameras to increase the municipal income by $44 million. Putting all that cash in the path of D.C. officials, given the record, would be unfair to officialdom.
The latest generation of cameras has just been introduced on city streets. These high-tech machines use a beam of infrared light, invisible to the naked eye, to take snapshots of passing cars and trucks, day and night. Without the tell-tale high-intensity flash of light, the owners of the accused cars and trucks will have no idea their cars have been "caught" until the private Arizona company, American Traffic Solutions, puts a bill in the mail.
The cameras are hidden behind bridges, signs, shrubbery and other hiding places. The goal is not deterrence, but dishing out as many tickets as possible. The cameras are not intended to get speeders and reckless drivers off the streets, since the anonymous speeder is never ticketed. It's the car or truck held responsible. It's a transparent cash grab. Mr. Bentivolio is right to try to put a stop to such thievery.
An apoplectic Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.'s delegate in Congress, rallied the usual crowd of the green bicycle-riding elites, who hate every car but their own, with an unusual personal attack on her colleague, which hardly befits a congresswoman with neither a vote nor a sense of congressional collegiality. "If either Representative Bentivolio or his staff has received such a ticket, then they should pay it, unless he thinks that members of Congress who by law are already exempt from most ticket violations here should be excused," she says.
Mr. Bentivolio's violations are neither likely nor relevant, since he does not keep a car in the District; what matters are the constitutional questions at stake. The Founders put Congress in charge of the District for a good reason. They didn't want small-time officials equipped with inflated egos to have leverage over Congress. James Madison explained in Federalist No. 43 that elevating the status of the District would create "a dependence of the members of the general government on the State comprehending the seat of the government."
Maybe it wasn't such a good idea for the city to install that speed camera (since removed) near the entrance to the Third Street tunnel to ticket congressmen and their staffers arriving from Virginia, headed for the Capitol. Like residents of Maryland and tourists arriving from everywhere to see their capital, they have no say in how the city is governed. Mrs. Norton complains that "congressional bullies" are pushing the District around just because they can. But if Congress intervenes to put a stop to this taxation without representation, the District officials have no one to blame but themselves and their greed.
The Washington Times
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